Strengths Based Inclusive

By James R. Thompson, PhD All doctoral students and faculty in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas participate in specializations. The six specializations include the Strengths Based and Inclusive Approaches to the Education of Adolescents with Extensive and Pervasive Support Needs sequence of which I co-lead. I suspect that our specialization … Continue reading

Equity & Gifted Children: A Father’s Perspective

Dr. Donald Easton-Brooks, School of Education Dean at the University of South Dakota, shares his first-hand experience with the inequities gifted students and their families face.
Continue reading

Mary Morningstar: Until we meet again!


We celebrate our friend and colleague, Mary Morningstar as she moves to her next adventure in Oregon. Mary, you will be missed by your colleagues and students! We found some pictures and quotes to share with you.MM

A few quotes!

Dr. Gary Clark, Professor Emeritus, University of Kansas
Mary and I have been friends and collaborative colleagues since her arrival here to begin her doctoral studies and direct the Full Citizenship project. Our mutual interests in transition programs and services gave KU a unique situation of not one but two people committed to this area. I was always impressed with her creative ideas, her grant-writing skills, and her collaborative approach with colleagues and students to stay engaged and focussed on her goals and career passion. How she did this while juggling family and professional demands was remarkable. She left a clear legacy here and will be sorely missed.
Dr. Ryan Kellums, Assistant Professor, Brigham Young University
When I first started working with Mary, I was a high school History teacher. I happened to sit next to one of her doc students at a conference—and I didn’t know then, but that casual meeting would prove to be a pivotal moment in both my personal and professional life. Spurred by Mary’s encouragement, I applied for the doctoral program in Special Education at the University of Kansas. I was accepted and Mary was my adviser. Throughout the course of my PhD program and dissertation research, Mary spent hundreds of hours teaching and mentoring me. As I started my career, Mary not only gave me access to her vast knowledge but she also introduced me to her professional network.  As I have progressed in my career, Mary has become more than a mentor and doctoral advisor—she is a valued and trusted colleague and friend. Much of the success that I’ve experienced as a professional can be traced back to Mary’s patient guidance. I feel privileged to have been counseled at her hands and wish her the best in all future endeavors.
Sarah Hannon, BSE
Although I have only worked with Dr. Morningstar for about one year, the insight, the instruction, and the lessons I learned from her are invaluable. I will truly miss her when she is gone and will keep working on inclusive education for the students I serve with her values and methods in mind. I hope to stay in touch and to always keep learning from Dr. Morningstar. Thank you for everything!
Jeff Harkin, Principal, LMCMS
Dr. Morningstar has been a great support to our staff and students at LMCMS.  She has generously contributed her time by conducting professional development and collecting observation data.  She has gained the trust and respect in working closely with our 7th core academic team and has enhanced our inclusive practices.
Lauren Johnson, HS Teacher
Mary is without a doubt the craziest teacher I’ve ever had! She beautifully sets high standards for herself and others around her while showing us grace through her own mistakes and flexibility. What an amazing person to learn from and grow with! Unforgettable!
Yilke Pacarizi
Dear Mary, Having you as a supervisor during my stay at KU has been the highlight of my experience there. Thank you for the trust, the guidance, the motivation you’ve given me to fight for inclusive education, for all the car rides and for making me feel at home. I couldn’t have asked for a better person and expert to guide me and support me. While the program at KU has been only the beginning of my journey to fight for the provision of inclusive education, I am honored and lucky to have started this journey with you. I hope you continue to leave a mark in people’s lives as you did in mine.

Hugs from Kosovo


 With students and colleagues at the Thanksgiving Celebration!



Always with a smile and sense of humor! Mary and colleagues!


We won’t say goodbye…we wish you Godspeed*!

*”good fortune; success (used as a wish to a person starting on a journey, a new venture)” 



Come Together: Education Equity, Choice, and the Need for Small Schools 2.0

Stuart Rhoden, Ph.D.

Arizona State Universitysrhoden1

In 1969 when the Beatles were on the verge of breaking up, they, or rather more specifically John Lennon, wrote a song titled Come Together.While there are many songs that articulate ththe concept of finding common ground, this song has always stuck out to me because of the back story that was taking place while it was being written. Even in the midst of tremendous conflict, Come Together from the brilliant Abbey Road album demonstrated the genius of the most influential band in the world. If the Beatles could come together during that time of extreme conflict to create beautiful music, why can’t we in public education get along amidst similar factions and struggles?

It seems that these days society prefers to remain in what is colloquially referred to as “silos” or “bubbles” in which the preponderance of a particular cluster of people or institutions who inhabit said space generally all agree on a particular philosophy. School choice folks associate with school choice folks.  “Progressive educators” match up with other “progressive educators,” and so on. The complexity however in this analogy beyond silos is that the very terms we use to define said silos are now being co-opted by others to mean something entirely different. None the less, despite the definitional conflicts, very few individuals or groups attempt to cross boundaries, or more



importantly try to build bridges.  You are either with us or against us, whoever the us is.

One of the most contentious areas where there is a strong need to build bridges is the division between those who support “traditional neighborhood public schools” versus those who advocate for “charter schools.”

Charter schools have been defined as schools that are created by a group of individuals, or a charter management organization to provide an alternative to traditional schools. While many charters are in urban areas, charters exist in many districts in every state in the country. Let me be clear, some conflate or confuse the discussion with charters with the discussion surrounding vouchers. Vouchers are defined as a state monetary subsidy that helps parents pay a certain amount for their child’s education. Generally, that voucher is worth around $5000 or so depending on the state.  A quick cursory examination of independent or parochial or religious schools can discern that most of their yearly cost, even for pre-K, is in excess of $10-20,000 per year.  Thus, vouchers at best pay for only 50% of the overall cost of attending these types of schools.

Separate from the voucher debate, charter schools are supposed to be “free” public schools. Their organizational structures can include non-profits, charter management organizations or even “for-profit” companies.  And while they are free to attend, there is generally some cost associated with attending a charter school.  For example, at some charters, full-day kindergarten is not subsidized by many states, and as such, parents have to pay for afternoon school care.  Other costs could include after school programs, sports, extra-curricular/enrichment (chess, STEM, robotics, dance, etc.).  As such, many contend that charters are a slippery slope towards the “privatization of public education.”

However, there is an alternative.

At least since the 1990s, there has been a movement within large comprehensive high schools (and some middle schools), to create “small schools” or “schools within schools.” Just as charter schools were created to be incubators of innovation and best practices, small schools were created to do similar work within the confines of a larger comprehensive district run school. The goal for small schools was to provide not just innovation within the larger school, but to create learning communities or academies that were focused on specific areas of academic interest (e.g., arts, STEM, technology, business, social justice, etc.). These smaller communities were also designed to create a level of autonomy at the school site level and place ownership on teachers to become leaders within the school (Dingerson et al., 2008).

As a young educator who wanted to transition into the classroom from working with students in after school programs, I moved to Los Angeles to become a teacher in South Central Los Angeles. In the school where I started as a long-term sub and concluded, in four short years, as a Small School Coordinator, we were an incubator of change – rapid, constant, and at times divisive change.  In my four years, we went from theme-based academies, to small learning communities to eventually leaving the control of Los Angeles Unified School District and becoming a consortium of charter schools on a single 23-acre campus run by a charter management organization, Green Dot. Choosing to “leave” the district was seen as a drastic step by many, but the majority of the teachers voted for this change.  What was unfortunate was that there were many opportunities for the transition to a charter to not occur. Time was not given to let academies, or even small learning communities be able to marinate and take root within the school community. As such, the teachers, and many parents believed that what was best for the students and community was a fresh start with new management and hopefully new outcomes.

Ten years after the transition to Green Dot, we have seen the benefits of the teachers’ difficult choice to become a charter school. The question that will forever linger is what if we, as a school and a community, were given more time to make the small schools in this large comprehensive, persistently dangerous, low performing high school work?  The infighting among teachers as well as disagreements with the district, as to what small schools should look like within our school, was what ultimately led to the exodus from LAUSD all together.

The teacher factions within the school could not convince one another that meaningful, long-term change meant doing something significantly different than what had previously been attempted to achieve more positive academic outcomes for our students. Our skeptical colleaguesmall schools would be academically and socially beneficial for all our students – even at the most persistently low performing school in the district. In addition to our skeptical colleagues, we were not able to sway the union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), that we were willing to adjust our contractually obligated number of hours in the day to obtain a greater level of actual autonomy.  We were not able to quickly alert those skeptical colleagues to the preponderance of research that indicates smaller is better, even to those who had visited excellent examples of small schools in New York, and other parts of California. In short, we were unable to make change happen because the vocal, powerful minority did not believe in the power of a small group of dedicated teachers and students who saw a different way of educating youth in an urban environment.

photo of woman teaching

Photo by nappy on

Perhaps the biggest impediment to skeptical educators “buying into” the small schools movement, not just at our school, but across the country was the millions of dollars being spent towards small school efforts by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Strauss, 2014).  Gates and his wife were insistent that the comprehensive “factory” model of public education was not only antiquated, it did not prepare students for the 21stcentury work force (Gates, 2005). People were then, and still are, skeptical of Gates and his intentions when it comes to public education.

Regardless of Gates’ prior support of small schools, it is well past time that we revisit this educational innovation again before we really do “lose” more of our public schools to charter conversions. In order for us to attract and maintain middle class parents and continue to have schools that are inclusive and representative of society as a whole, we need to revisit the concept of small schools within large comprehensive schools and school districts.  Without this change, we will continue to lose ground, not to mention teachers and students, to innovative schools who do not have the same pedagogical constraints as many traditional, comprehensive neighborhood schools.

Parts of this blog were excerpted from Rhoden, S.(2017) Small Learning Communities (SLCs) and the Importance of Listening. In Kent, A.M. & Green, A.M. (Eds.), Examining Best Practices in Mentoring Public School Educators throughout the Professional Journey. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Reflections of the 2017 Cohort: Challenge, Perseverance, Success!

The 2017 Cohort members were asked to provide a word that summed up their experience, a few sentences and a symbolic picture!

William Proffitt

Word: Exploratory

I am so thrilled and so privileged to be completing my Ph.D. in Special Education at the University of Kansas. This first year experience has assured me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, even though I could have never predicted I would be here. I am grateful for the support and knowledge of my cohort, other cohorts, and my professors. The copious amounts of reading and discussion have positively influenced my thinking and broadened my understanding of the world.


Kayla Nott

Word: Strengthening

This year I’ve learned how to navigate new aspects of academia I never knew existed. Through obstacles and challenges, I’ve become stronger as a writer, researcher, speaker, and advocate. I have also become humbled in recognizing that I still have such a long way to go.  The connections I have built this year are important, as the KU community is full of powerful allies I am proud to call my friends and colleagues. These relationships empower me today and will certainly be lasting into all of our futures, regardless of where our paths may fork.

Chelsea Waters

Word: IterativeMy first year at KU has been equally challenging and rewarding. With the support of my cats and family, I am beginning to embrace the iterative process of reading, learning, and writing. I am looking forward to the next three years at KU!

Bryan A. Simmons

Word: Tenacious

My inaugural year has been nothing short of overwhelming and the experiences I have undertaken this year have pushed me beyond my limits, shaping my relentless behavior through each contingency along the way. I have been able to persevere particularly with the encouragement of my supportive colleagues and the faculty. I am eternally grateful for my experiences this year and I am thrilled to see what the next several years here at KU hold in store for me. Rock Chalk!


Zijie Ma

Word: Challenging, Memorable

ZijeI am so grateful for all the support from my advisor, other faculties, and fellow students that helped me transition into the profession. Many of my “unknown unknowns” of the field turned into “known unknowns”. I become more aware of my strength, weakness, and room for improvement. I wish to keep growing and enjoy the moment.

Adam Carreon

Word: Direction

This year has forced me to take my many thoughts and find them a home. Excellent collaboration with my fellow students, adviser, and other faculty members have brought some of my ideas to life. It is amazing what I have learned thus far and I look forward to where the next chapter on this journey leads.

Chris Wilt

Word: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious

“Even though the workload appeared daunting and atrocious.                       

Once I studied long enough, my vocab became precocious.

The knowledge that I gained made my mind ferocious.

My first year in the program was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

Sohyun Yang

Word: CollaborationSoyyun

 I was able to self-reflect on the purpose of my study and learn how to organize my thoughts. Most of all, I learned how important collaborating with my cohort is. My colleagues have inspired me every time I communicated with them, and those priceless engagements helped me to grow in this academic field.



Work Without Limits: My daughter, Noelle, finding herself in her work

Scott Borchardt, and his wife, Julie,

scott borchardtgraduates and their son, Nick, will attend KU this Fall.  


Our daughter, Noelle, is on the cusp of adulthood. She’s an engaging 21-year-old with Down Syndrome, who is excited about what the future holds. We’ve helped her develop a vision of the life she wants to lead and employment is an important part of it. Why? A job will provide structure, purpose, and fulfillment to her life. It will help define her identity, influencing how she sees herself in the community and how the community sees her. How will this happen? Through the opportunities that employment provides for relationships, achievement and community inclusion.

Noelle Borchardt works as an intern at the Arc of Massachusetts Transition Conference 

Relationships – Life is more fun with friends! Young adults with disabilities can face challenges building and maintaining friendships. To avoid social isolation, they need opportunities to build and sustain meaningful relationships. The workplace can provide the types of opportunities for social interaction that can help build friendships. Noelle has experienced this in her volunteer role at a local nursing home. She has used her wit and charm to connect with patients in ways that others have not, bringing happiness to them and their families. The staff have embraced her too, surprising her last month with a birthday cake and delivering a collective smile!

Achievement – Employment provides opportunities for achievement, and achievement provides opportunities for fulfillment. A job can present daily opportunities for task completion and skill development; helping individuals with disabilities build their identity. Noelle exudes pride when she completes tasks and masters skills. You can’t wipe the smile off her face when we enter the local restaurant where she interns. She excitedly explains her role at the restaurant and introduces us to her manager. The impact of her workplace achievements are self-evident.

Noelle practices her elevator pitch during a PwC sponsored session on job seeking skills.

Noelle practices her elevator pitch during a PwC sponsored session on job seeking skills.

Community Inclusion – If you are not present in the community, are you really part of the community? Too often individuals with disabilities lack employment opportunities in their local communities. The benefits of working near home are obvious – reduced commuting times, familiar settings, and, most importantly, the opportunity to be seen. Being seen allows one to experience the benefits of the community and interact with neighbors, friends, teachers, and family. Noelle loves being seen! Seeing acquaintances at local stores, restaurants, and other community settings can be the highlight of her day. Having these opportunities at work would have a meaningful impact on her life.

The impact of employment extends beyond the traditional wage for services model of an employer/employee relationship. A job often influences an individual’s identity – how they see themselves and how others see them. This is especially true for individuals with disabilities. As Noelle begins to search for jobs in earnest, our focus will be on helping her find a position that provides opportunities for relationships, achievement, and community inclusion.

Employment for individuals with disabilities should provide opportunities for relationships, achievement and community inclusion.

If you are a person with a disability seeking inclusive employment or an employer seeking diverse candidates sign up to Work Without Limits Job Board

If you are an employer seeking great talent such as Noelle, join our Massachusetts Business Leadership Network (MABLN) to gain access to all WWL has to offer!



Founded in 2008, Work Without Limits is a network of engaged employers and innovative, collaborative partners whose shared mission is to increase the employment rate of people with disabilities. Our vision is the employment rate of people with disabilities is equal to people without disabilities.  Work Without Limits programs and services are geared to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities who are seeking jobs, businesses that actively recruit people with disabilities, and the employment providers that serve individuals with disabilities. 

WWL Staff

We are grateful to Scott Borchardt and and Work Without Limits for contributing this blog originally published at

Strollin’ with Nolan

By Sean Joseph Smith

Nolan and I were asked to write this blog to share a little about Nolan and a local social media hit, Strollin’ with Nolan. Strollin’ with Nolan began as a series of short videos that Nolan and Brad Stoll–Lawrence High School Baseball Coach and Adaptive Physical Education (APE) teacher– took at various locations around the school. Brad posted each video on the Chesty Lions Twitter Feed.


It took only a couple of Strollin’ Tweets and the series began to receive tremendous feedback with followers wanting more. Brad started to receive text messages if he happened to skip a regular stream of installments!

nolan and brad

Nolan and his APE and Baseball Coach, Brad Stoll at Lawrence High School, Lawrence, KS.

Before long, the posts grew with a regular following. Brad’s posts garnered likes from all over with the LHS Baseball twitter feed receiving more attention than the average tweet. Overall, the videos were a hit, Brad and Nolan have shared a number of stories over the years, and with him being part of the baseball team (Baseball Manager), the videos have fostered a more supportive environment as a member of the team.

Nolan bringing the HEAT!

As I reflected on this blog though and the story to share about Strollin’ with Nolan, I kept coming back to the fact that the videos go beyond a simple social media post. You see, video has played an important part in Nolan’s life and it represents so much in Nolan’s educational experience. Now, I am not talking so much about the technology tool that video can and often represents. Yes, video is cool and video modeling and similar interventions are effective. But for Nolan, video has offered meaningful entry into the general education classroom, the curriculum, and the overall expectations. Let me explain.

sean and nolan

“Nolan and I”

When Nolan transitioned from 3-5 services to the early primary grades, inclusion wasn’t a slam dunk. Instead, extensive time in a resource room or para led instruction was recommended if not required. Through a number of discussions, pre-planning, and working with some excellent educators, Nolan received the supports needed to make general education inclusion for grades K-2 work. This involved regular meetings with his general and special education teachers. My wife and I also spent a fair amount of time in the general education classroom volunteering. Being there provided a chance to see Nolan in action, understand the class expectations, assist the teachers (thereby developing a relationship with him/her), and get to know his peers. During evenings and weekends, we pre-taught some of the major concepts and worked to prepare Nolan for the next day or week. Yes, a team approach during a time when schools are often open to including students with an intellectual disability in the general education classroom, is needed.

With the elementary grades upon us, the team approach continued to be critical. Yet, expectations grew. For a limited reader who had difficulty in writing, school was problematic for Nolan. The pressure to spend more time in the resources room and less time with typically developing peers mounted. We were being reminded that Nolan was an outlier and the services we were advocating for, the decisions for placement, and the supports that were needed went beyond typical services. Yet, everything we sought aligned with the provisions to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) and so we continued to advocate.

By 3rd grade, our advocacy centered around technology. Technology to provide access to content, tools to demonstrate what he knew, and technology to make the learning experience more effective as well as efficient, particularly when you considered the brief school day and the increasingly shorter school year. In the end, applications like word prediction, graphic organizers, digital books (with text-to-speech support), and of course, video made a HUGE difference in Nolan’s educational experience. For example, word prediction allowed him to type in a letter and receive a list of words, he could then listen to the words and determine which would be best for a sentence. The other technologies were helpful but video was the equalizer. Video was used to create social stories, starring Nolan and his classmates, where he would illustrate the appropriate behavioral and social interactions expected in the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, and playgrounds. In place of a class presentation, Nolan created videos where additional time, practice, and editing allowed him to convey what he wanted to share. By the time he transitioned to middle school, videos were part of most every school day.

nolan and ricki

Nolan connecting with a true celebrity at the National Down syndrome Congress Annual Convention, Ricki Sabai.

Like any transition, moving to Middle School proved to be a challenge. Though we planned ahead, a number of the teachers weren’t sure what to make of Nolan. Again, there was a special room for the Nolans of the world. Inclusion meant gym, a few electives, and lunch. It certainly didn’t include all academic subjects, band, theater, and other electives. Fortunately, we had an accomplished videographer. With no time for oral reports or class presentations, Nolan was expected to complete the worksheet or related written assignment. Within three weeks, teachers questioned his placement and ability. Realizing failure meant segregation, Nolan put together a brief video presentation on the early American explorers. He sent the video via email on a Friday and by Tuesday his social studies teacher was singing his praises. She went from a primary skeptic to his number one advocate. For the remainder of his middle school years, the separate room was not mentioned again.

nolan and kate

Nolan as keynote speaker at Rhinestones & Rodeo Art Auction and Dance with Kate Dougherty.  This event hosted by Down Country, its biggest fundraiser of the year.Down Country helps raise awareness and help individuals with disabilities.

By High School, Lawrence Public Schools had adopted a blended learning instructional model. Video was commonplace as a means to represent ideas and support the student in demonstrating what they knew.  In other words, Nolan and his video projects were cool! They had also come full circle. While Brad Stoll was adding more and more Strollin’ with Nolan videos, Nolan was beginning to create his own. As a journalism student, he pitched the idea of creating a series of Strollin’ with Nolan interviews for the Yearbook/Journalism website. He would invite staff or students to be interviewed, develop the questions, storyboard the interview, conduct the interview, and the edit the production in order to share with others. His first featured a para he liked to see:

Strollin with Nolan Episode 1

Soon, he was developing audio and video episodes where he continued to interview members of the Lawrence High School community which would be featured on the LHS Budget Online,

nolan and lhs kids

Nolan and his fellow classmates Emceeing Pack the House (for Winter Sports) at Lawrence High School. Inclusion at work with thanks to the STUCO Advisor (Mrs. Lauxman) and his peers who are accepting, welcoming, and empowering. We are blessed and Thankful!

Today, Strollin’ with Nolan continues! Strollin’ with Nolan Interview.

Brad and Nolan post periodic updates on the LHS Baseball Twitter feed and Nolan develops material for the LHS Budget Online. But it extends beyond the social media. Nolan’s videos require a level of organization, idea generation, scripting, and overall storyboarding – a process he leads. The video requires speech fluency and effective articulation. Where else then to receive speech and language support from his Speech and Language Pathologist? She is with him twice a week working with the script and practicing to ensure competency and independence.

smith familiy

A labor of love for Nolan that serves as a tool for meaningful access to the general education classroom, social inclusion, and school notoriety where Coach Stoll often refers to Nolan as the Mayor of Lawrence.  Why?  Everyone seems to know Nolan.



We Are All Emotional Intersectional Beings: A Necessary Ingredient for Affective Intersectional Inclusion for ALL

Co-Lead Authors:  David I. Hernández-Saca & Sarah Salinas


What do we all have in common, yet at the same time experience qualitatively differently? We all experience a range of positive, negative and in-between emotions as we live our daily lives as human beings with multiple and intersectional identities (Crenshaw, 1991). Having multiple and intersectional identities with a range of emotionality, are two sides of the same coin. By intersectional we mean that a person can embody and experience cultural practices, such as reading out loud in a classroom or participating in an Individual Education Plan (IEP) meeting for their child, differently, given their multiple identities. For example, an African American woman will experience cultural practices differently than an African American man or an emergent bilingual[1] who also happens to be Mexican. Dominant institutionalized narratives about historically and continually marginalized youth at their intersections, particularly the intersections of race and ability, persist to this day leading to misunderstandings (Hall, 1997; West, 1993).


This positioning of marginality existed in institutions such as the courts through single dimensional recognition of individual’s rights and personhood which leads to social patterns and practices of segregation based on gender, language, racial/ethnic, ability, and class differences (Crenshaw, 1989). In other words, our identities might include being a mother, father, student, sister, teacher, husband, partner, paraprofessional, special educator, general educator, and/or student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a Specific Learning Disability such as Dyslexia, Autism, Down Syndrome, or Emotional Behavioral Disorder. However, we are not only these, but have other identities that make us vulnerable to the perceptions that societies and cultures have inherited due to these past histories. Given these vulnerabilities, oppression and marginalization exist in multiple, simultaneous ways. An intersectional understanding of folks’ identities would not allow us to forget this.


Frierian philosophy directs us to recognize the full humanity of all persons which includes aspects of affect and emotionality, as well as the individually unique positionality and experiences shaped by our individual identities and intersectional lives. Some of these emotions might include anger, sadness, frustration, irritation, indignation, powerless, joy, disappointment, love, pride, and hope. We might experience more than one of these emotions at a time. Our emotions, feelings and affects and our intersectional identities, within educational contexts and cultures may, given our culture-less[2] and identity-less dominant perceptions, be unacknowledged (Artiles, King-Thorius, Bal, Waitoller, Neal, & Hernández-Saca, 2011; Artiles, 2017, October 19; Hernández-Saca, 2017). It is important to acknowledge and act in ways that respect such complexity and lived experiences particularly within the context of education.


Literature on parent-school relationships documents how families from historically marginalized communities continue to feel alienated from the bureaucracies associated with schools (Harry, Allen, & McLaughlin, 1995; Trainor, 2010), as do their children. Specifically, consider the following key findings about how many school and transition personnel often fail to engage with culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) families and youth with disabilities, by Greene (2011). This study finds that they often–

  1. Do not possess critical knowledge and skills related to the multiple dimensions of cultural and linguistic diversity (CLD);
  2. Do not respect CLD parents and youth with disabilities involved in the transition process;
  3. Do not acknowledge the hopes and dreams for the future held by CLD families and youth with disabilities;
  4. Do not engage in culturally responsive collaboration with CLD families and youth with disabilities in a way that makes them feel valued, listened to, and respected during the transition planning process. (p.118-119)


Similar patterns of intersectional marginalization have been documented at different grade levels. Gallo (2017) conducted a multi-year ethnographic study and documented the ways in which teachers enacted gender, racial, and immigration bias towards Mexican immigrant fathers of elementary age children in Pennsylvania. Gallo (2017) observed the increased marginalization of Mexican immigrant fathers, whose presence engendered greater suspension and surveillance in school and educational settings. Manifestations of this, she noted, often took the form of being ignored at parent-teacher conferences, and through teacher discourse about their parental engagement in language-building and literacy activities with their own children,  as subversive and detrimental to academic development (Gallo, 2017).


One explanation for this might be the deficit-thinking dominant in society about CLD youth at their intersections and their families. This deficit-thinking in turn becomes lies that circulate as “true” within society, communities, schools and individual minds about CLD youth and their families. According to sociologists, these lies are social constructions and stereotypes about particular individuals based on their membership in a particular identity group (Ainlay, Becker, & Coleman, 1986).  We have come to understand the traditional memberships (race, gender, sexual orientation, social class) as “identity badges” (Artiles, 2015). However, from a cultural historical approach to human development and activity, we can also see that professional, cultural, and other types of roles carry with them stereotypical residues, which, in light of the histories of violence against such groups, create vulnerability to stereotypes about who and how capable they are. Ginsberg, Kamat, Raghu, and Weaver (1995) pointed out the pervasive, yet public myth that teaching is an apolitical activity. This predicament makes it imperative to remind ourselves that we are all human[s] who experience the full range of negative, positive and in-between emotions, and that for too long our educational and broader culture has used these emotions as a mechanism of exclusion as opposed to inclusion.


How we critically feel and think about who counts within a community is a deeply ingrained and learned phenomena that has the potential to either humanize or dehumanize, or at worst, create the other (Said, 1978).  In creating the other, we construct an image of that person in our own way, a way that is deeply false to who they are and disconnected from reality and humanity (Powell, 2012).  Since building relationships involves emotionality, and relationships are central to education, we argue that attention to how we build relationships is imperative for quality teacher education, special and general education policy, and practice.  One way of accomplishing this feat involves the study of emotionality and affect in teacher learning about social justice issues for theory, research, and practice. We care deeply about students with dis/abilities[3] at their intersections and their families and believe their human development and well-being is necessary to create an inclusive psychology, school, and world for ALL.


Flight by multimedia Los Angeles artist, Aaron Morse. Sourced from his website here.

Because of our own unique intersectional identities within the system of education and society, we each experience qualitatively different lives. I (first author) am Latino of mixed ethnicity, of El Salvadorean and Palestinian descent, gay, and labeled with an auditory learning disability. I (second author) identify as a Mexican-American woman, Texas native, with a health impairment that affects the way I structure and access school and work environments.  However, what we both have in common is: 1) our dehumanizing experiences within the educational system that hurt us and our opportunities to learn; and 2) our passion for educational equity for all that centers the role of unconditional and radical love (Fromm, 1956). In our view, unconditional and radical love has the potential to re-envision educational policy and praxis—the coupling of critical thinking and action—for historically and continually marginalized youth with dis/abilities at their intersections and emotional states[4].


Image of Michael Brown (RIP), 18-year old unarmed African-American youth shot and killed in Ferguson, MO by police officer, Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. By Rin Jonson for Hyperallergic.


As a fairly new teacher educator I, David, have come to understand my role in the last year and a half as listening to my pre-service teachers’ fears, hopes, passions, dreams, and witnessing how they make sense of their developing understanding of critical educational equity issues. These issues include: White Supremacy, whiteness, cultural diversity, disproportionality (the over or under representation of students of color and minority students in special education compared to their white counterparts), special and general education law, the history of deinstitutionalization for people with dis/abilities in the U.S., questions related to whether special education and general education should merge, collaboration between special and general educators, the importance of intersectionality for serving historically and continually marginalized youth and their families, and other critical issues in special and general education.

All of these critical issues in special and general education have legal precedent and it is of critical importance for new teachers, at their intersections, to also understand how their future students and their families are qualitatively differently situated within the system. The legal precedent includes federal special education laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (P.L. 108-446), and federal general education laws such Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) (P.L. 89-10), later renamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) (P.L. 107-110) and more recently Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA) (P.L. 114-95).


Developing a critical consciousness of such issues beyond the technical dimensions of teaching and learning is a central goal of the courses I teach in teacher preparation. The two courses are 1) special education law, assistive technology, and advocacy and 2) transition planning and programming for students with disabilities at their intersections. Developing a critical consciousness includes creating new knowledge that will help students build skills and dispositions as agents within the system about the technical dimensions of teaching and learning but also about social justice and philosophical aspects. These include not only issues of oppression as their students are evolving as human beings, for example, but also who they are and are becoming as teachers, along with them.


We are also reminded by scholars like Tuck and Yang (2014) that researchers have a moral obligation to move beyond the “collec[tion] of stories of pain and humiliation in the lives of those being researched for commodifications” (p.223). Adhering to this principle we seek to create a space for general and special education teacher practitioners, education researchers, and students with dis/abilities at their intersections, and parents, to reconcile the existing tensions and intersections we see in our relationships with students with dis/abilities at their intersections and education systems. As a necessary first step to unpacking these beliefs, we recognize two implicit tensions which shape how teachers, students with dis/abilities at their intersections and parents from historically and continually marginalized populations interact in educational spaces.  These are special education IEP committee meetings, and the communication and advocacy efforts of parents within schools on behalf of their students.

First we call for an examination of the explicit and implicit values, assumptions, and perspectives embedded in educational policy at large, specifically policies of special education. By this we mean we want to start more conversations about the connotations, denotations, and expectations associated with the rights, responsibilities and entitlements of school districts, students with dis/abilities at their intersections, and their parents. While it is beyond the scope of this blog to trace the historical shifts and opinions of policy makers, judges, and public opinion towards the protection of the educational and civil rights of students with dis/abilities at their intersections and responsibilities of their parents to protect these rights over time, we do note the shift over time that has increasingly placed responsibility on students with dis/abilities at their intersections and parents to protect their rights (Turnbull, 2005).

Second, we acknowledge that the material realities in which we find ourselves as humans are continuously shaped by the visible and invisible forces of capitalism and class as well as capital (Bourdieu, 1986) derived from our identities and backgrounds that include economic capital (class background), social capital (educational attainment and other status markers), and society’s labels based on singular categories of race/ethnicity, class, gender, etc. All of these intersect and create multiple forms of oppression and marginalization within educational contexts which are meant to provide access, participation, and positive outcomes and capital in the first place. The question that emerges from these two points is, what concrete steps we can take to change how we as teachers, students, and parents interact and work together in educational spaces.

Though not a final, or fully developed answer (if even one exists) we suggest that teachers, mentors, and all persons must challenge themselves to take up two mind-and-heartsets that will create repositioning of power, equity, and inclusive collaboration in this work:

  1. Consider equally, and perhaps foreground our treatment and relationships with others in a way that positions the person before the disability label[5] and the policy rather than the standard (or historical) practices of placing the student’s disability before a notion of students as an individual human being; and
  2. Work to intentionally operate from a value-neutral position[6] in which we withhold judgement and check our biases about those individuals with whom we work (Fitzpatrick, Sanders, & Worthen, 2011), and use a lens of empowerment evaluation centered on 10 core principles that include: “Improvement, Community ownership, Inclusion, Democratic participation, Social Justice, Community Knowledge, Evidence-based strategies, Capacity Building (we add in others/persons), Organizational learning, and Accountability” (Fetterman & Wanderson, 2004. p.30).

With these objectives in mind-and-heart we hope to begin creating space in communities about the potential for re-shaping how we work together towards both internal and external inclusion for ALL. We do want to point out, however, that given the status quo and the deep asymmetrical legacies of power-relations embedded within U.S. education, we also encourage the readers to continue to question what counts as “evidence” within positivist structures (Heshusius & Ballard, 1996) that attempt to “prescribe” “evidence-based” practices as “universal.”  Asking who benefits and who doesn’t and other questions of power, privilege, representation, and difference are not asked in assessing “strategies” or in other words “scripts” for human interactions within learning and teaching contexts. These “scripts” we submit further construct and impede authenticity, love and justice, and lead to further dehumanization and hence colonization. We believe this alternative mind-and-heart paradigm, as a way of being, doing, feeling and seeing, can contribute to a generative language and emotionality that humanizes and can work toward educational equity for ALL.


[1] We chose to use the term emergent bilingual instead of English Language Learner (ELL) given that ELL centers the power of English, and reproduces the hegemony of English, while the former term acknowledges not a deficit view or assumption of individuals learning another language which happens to be English and denotes a positive and robust repertoires of linguistic practices that the language learner can engage in learning beyond English.

[2] We chose to use the term culture-less and identity-less as opposed to “color-blind,” given that the latter is a species of ableist language since it connotes “blindness” as a deficit. In addition, these two words emphasize the role of culture and identity in all human activity, when often times these two words are only associated to particular ethnic groups such as African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and Indigenous groups. When in fact, those at the center of power in the U.S., such as White, cisgendered, abled-psychoemotional and bodied, upper-class, English-only speaking, and those who embody other hegemonic identities, also have culture, but they might not be aware of it given that they are the center of power and these identities have become normalized and hence are at the center of the historical assimilationist project working to and through people who embody such positionalities and hence it is difficult to be introspective as a culture or an individual when you don’t question your culture or the role of power in your identities that are privileged within the larger social imaginary of what counts to be human.

[3] Given our Disability Studies in Education (DSE) dispositions, we add a dash to the term, “disabilities,” to underscore the fact our belief that people with dis/abilities have both abilities and impairments and in given our belief in the social model of disability we see dis/ability as an identity marker to be proud of, as opposed to something to diagnosis and remediate. The latter would be the medical model of disability.

[4] By emotional states, we don’t purely take a psychological stance on emotion, feelings, and affect, but one that is interdisciplinary in nature that understands emotional states as social constructions and sociocultural in nature as well.

[5] From a Disability Studies in Education approach, it is important to acknowledge that some people with disabilities would prefer a disability identity-first language and it is perfectly fine to put the disability identity first. This is so, given that disability is seen from a minority model approach where disability serves as a political identity in order to garner civil rights (Longmore, 2003).

[6] Nevertheless, we want to be explicit about the importance of understanding that we are not advocating for “objectivity” here, since we understand that there is no such thing. Moving beyond binaries of subjectivity and objectivity is important to build upon one’s inclusive critical thinking and acting within educational relationships and systems. In addition, as stated earlier in the blog, teaching and (un)learning is a political act and antithetical to neutrality.



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Artiles, A. J. (2015). Beyond responsiveness to identity badges: Future research on culture in disability and implications for RTI. Educational Review, 67(1), 1-22.

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Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). P.L. 89-10.

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Fitzpatrick, J.L., Sanders, J.R., & Worthen, B.R. (4th Ed.) (2011). Program evaluation: Alternative approaches and practical guidelines. New York, NY: Allyn & Bacon.

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Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). P.L. 108-446.

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Adaptive Sporting and Recreational Programs Empower Disability Acceptance

By Timothy E. HornikLMSW, CATIS, US Army Veteran and Founder of Blind Not Alone.Tim is a disability and Veterans advocate pursuing a PhD in Therapeutic Sciences through the University of Kansas Medical Center. He adheres to Dr. Ed Canda’s concept of transilience, or going beyond who you were before to become someone new. He has earned various military and civilian recognitions for his service.


Mr. Hornik earned military and civilian recognition for service. During his military experience, he received the Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Purple Heart for injuries sustained, Army Accommodation Medal with Valor for actions in combat, campaign ribbons for service in Iraq and Korea, Combat Action Badge, and many other awards. During his civilian life, he received the University of Kansas (KU) MSW Margo Award for clinical practice, the KU Wounded Warrior Scholarship for his PhD pursuits, inducted into the inaugural UW La Crosse ROTC Hall of Fame, and nominated by UW La Crosse for the US Army ROTC Hall of Fame.

As we flip through social media feeds it is common to hit upon anything from a shared post on some fitness app, like Straba, to “liking” a friend’s running race results  These posts may motivate us to remain physically active or inspire us to establish health and wellness goals (Teodoro & Naaman, 2013). Our timelines and feeds lead us to conclude that the society generating our online experiences clearly cares about physical fitness.  Unfortunately, the National Institute of Health recently reported otherwise.  In the last decade one out of three American adults and 13% of American adolescents achieved an average body mass index (BMI) classification of either overweight or obese  (Ng et al., 2014).

For individuals with disabilities, the chances of being overweight or obese are even greater.  In 2010, The Center for Disease Control reported 57% more adults and 84% more adolescents with disabilities were overweight and/or more obese than their peers

Factors such as access to quality nutrition, financial and social resources to engage in physical fitness-related activities, secondary effects of medications or conditions, and access to suitable equipment and programs, directly impact these elevated rates (Jaarsma, Dijkstra, Geertzen, & Dekker, 2014; Warburton, Nicol, & Bredin, 2006).

Dr. Chen and Tim Hornik

Dr. Robert Chen, left, and Tim Hornik appear pleased following their portion of the blinded veteran relay at the California International Marathon.

However, by understanding how to achieve fitness goals, individuals with disabilities may reverse national trends. In a study of older adults, moderate to vigorous physical activities three times a week lowered their mortality rates by 22%  (Hupin et al., 2015).

image (1)

Children who participated in a group aerobic and strength training program for 60 minutes twice a week achieved fitness goals established by the 2010 President’s Fitness Test for their age groups (Fragala-Pinkham, Haley, Rabin, & Kharasch, 2005).  For adults, research pinpointing precise strategies or fitness requirements vary based on an individual’s disability. Community and group programs tend to do more than just empower one to reach their fitness goals, they more importantly aid in the process of accepting a disability or adopting a positive disability identity (Lai, Young, Bickel, Motl, & Rimmer, 2017; Lundberg, Taniguchi, McCormick, & Tibbs, 2011; Ponchillia, Ponchillia, & Strause, 2002).


The impact of fitness goals goes beyond health and wellness.  It alters self-perception.  Consider an individual who has just lost their sight. It’s common for people in this position to feel suddenly secluded. The simple act of going for a run resides largely outside of their abilities without accommodations and supports. No cane technique affords one the chance to truly hit a moderate to vigorous running pace and cycling independently remains elusive—at least for the time being. The solution requires a community approach. Blind Running or cycling quickly becomes a team sport through sighted guides and tandem captains. An individual’s results range from the achievement of fitness goals, to a sense of belonging, to engagement with community, to empowerment in establishing new independent living goals (Ponchillia, Ponchillia, & Strause, 2002)


The sense of positive effects of being a part of something greater than oneself in achieving a previously impossible goal echoes my feelings generated during my time in the US Army before losing my sight — and in every race or event I’ve participated in since then.  My sight loss stems from injuries sustained during combat operations in Iraq.  The Warrior culture places a significant value on one’s ability to demonstrate individual physical prowess during fitness tests and to developing a sense of cohesion, improved morale, and esprit de corps through group activities.


Throughout my military service, my fitness goals pushed me to exceed minimum requirements and obtain the maximum score possible. Early in my career, I managed to easily achieve this, earning the respect of those under my leadership and generating a high level of self-confidence. These feelings of accomplishment came crashing down after I lost my sight and could no longer independently run, cycle, or do a host of other activities.

During my rehabilitation process, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Army Wounded Warrior Program, and friends and family contributed to developing my disability identity.  Initially I rejected outright all attempts to integrate tools and skills which brought any attention to my blindness. The only exception involved assistive technologies for computers. This would align with my love for computers and an understanding of the role they would play in my remaining time in the Army.  At no point during this period did anyone attempt to assess my capacity for setting goals in adaptive sporting or recreational programs.


Nearly a decade after being injured, Richard Hunter, a blind Marine, drew my attention to adaptive sports through his events for the visually impaired division of the California International Marathon. While I participated in a couple of events for disabled Veterans, none of them truly demonstrated the power of adaptive sports to foster life changing dynamics between peers, volunteers, and community supporters. It mattered not whether one crushed the marathon with a two and a half hour time or if they putzed through a leg on a relay team like I did.  We all celebrated, regardless of our differences, together. For the first time, I truly felt proud to be blind.

It does not matter whether one establishes a goal to win their division or to simply participate. I continue to feel this way throughout any of the events I attend. When Dr. Mike Reynolds and I competed in the 204 mile Dirty Kanza gravel race, we constantly found ourselves surrounded by other riders asking about tandem riding. The funniest part is that no one realized I was blind until they saw me crossing the stage with Dr. Reynolds with my white cane to mount the first-place podium for the tandem class. Likewise, my sighted running guide, Chris Benjamin and I, spent much time talking with each other and fellow participants during the Kansas City Marathon and the Trolley Run.



VA Awards $8M in Adaptive Sports Program Grants to Aid Disabled Veterans. Image taken from U.S Department of Veterans Affairs. 

It is high time for adaptive sporting programs to cease to be viewed as hobbies or remedial recreational programs for individuals with disabilities. Rather, rehabilitation plans and individual educational plans need to incorporate fitness and adaptive sporting measures. This would benefit individuals with disabilities by providing the tools needed to combat obesity, promote disability acceptance (Lundberg et al., 2011), forge lasting community bonds (Zabriskie, Lundberg, & Groff, 2005), and increase employability (Lastuka & Cottingham, 2016).


Fragala-Pinkham, M. A., Haley, S. M., Rabin, J., & Kharasch, V. S. (2005). A fitness program for children with disabilities. Physical therapy, 85(11), 1182-1200.

Hupin, D., Roche, F., Gremeaux, V., Chatard, J.-C., Oriol, M., Gaspoz, J.-M., . . . Edouard, P. (2015). Even a low-dose of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces mortality by 22% in adults aged≥ 60 years: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med, bjsports-2014-094306.

Jaarsma, E., Dijkstra, P., Geertzen, J., & Dekker, R. (2014). Barriers to and facilitators of sports participation for people with physical disabilities: A systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 24(6), 871-881.

Lai, B., Young, H.-J., Bickel, C. S., Motl, R. W., & Rimmer, J. H. (2017). Current trends in exercise intervention research, technology, and behavioral change strategies for people with disabilities: A scoping review. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 96(10), 748-761.

Lastuka, A., & Cottingham, M. (2016). The effect of adaptive sports on employment among people with disabilities. Disability and rehabilitation, 38(8), 742-748.

Lundberg, N. R., Taniguchi, S., McCormick, B. P., & Tibbs, C. (2011). Identity negotiating: Redefining stigmatized identities through adaptive sports and recreation participation among individuals with a disability. Journal of Leisure Research, 43(2), 205.

Ng, M., Fleming, T., Robinson, M., Thomson, B., Graetz, N., Margono, C., . . . Abera, S. F. (2014). Global, regional, and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults during 1980–2013: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013. The lancet, 384(9945), 766-781.

Ponchillia, P., Ponchillia, S., & Strause, B. (2002). Athletes with visual impairments: Attributes and sports participation. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB), 96(04).

Teodoro, R., & Naaman, M. (2013). Fitter with Twitter: Understanding Personal Health and Fitness Activity in Social Media. ICWSM, 2013, 611-620.

Warburton, D. E., Nicol, C. W., & Bredin, S. S. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. Canadian medical association journal, 174(6), 801-809.

Zabriskie, R. B., Lundberg, N. R., & Groff, D. G. (2005). Quality of life and identity: The benefits of a community-based therapeutic recreation and adaptive sports program. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 39(3), 176.


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